Saturday, May 26, 2012

War Against The Canaanites (Judges 4-5)

The following quote is taken from

"Rape and the Spoils of War - "They must be dividing the spoils they took: there must be a damsel or two for each man, Spoils of dyed cloth as Sisera's spoil, an ornate shawl or two for me in the spoil."   (Judges 5:30 NAB)

This quote is taken far out of context.  It is part of the larger story and song of Deborah, and of the nation of Israel's victory against the Canaanites, who had oppressed them for 20 years.  You can read the entire story here:

            To summarize the story, the Israelites had been oppressed by King Jabin of Canaan for 20 years (Judges 4:1-3).  When they cried to the Lord for help, he commanded a man named Barak to lead the Israelite army to victory against Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army.  God sent this command through Deborah, a prophet and the only female judge of Israel.  Barak agreed to lead the army, but only if Deborah would accompany him.  She agreed, but prophesied that the honor of killing Sisera would be given to a woman.  God gave the Israelites victory over the Canaanites, and as Deborah had predicted, a woman named Jael killed Sisera (Judges 4:4-24).
            The quote from Judges chapter 5 is part of the larger Song of Deborah, which describes the Israelite victory over Sisera and the Canaanites.  In this portion of the song, they describe Sisera's mother, waiting for her son to return and bring back plunder from the war.  “Through the window peered Sisera’s mother; behind the lattice she cried out, ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?  Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’  The wisest of her ladies answer her; indeed, she keeps saying to herself, ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils: a woman or two for each man, colorful garments as plunder for Sisera, colorful garments embroidered, highly embroidered garments for my neck—all this as plunder?'" (Judges 5:28-30, NIV).  The Canaanites had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for 20 years.  Many ancient cultures did take women as plunder in times of war [1].  This is another example of an action that the Bible records, but God did not approve of.  As mentioned in previous articles, rape is a sin, and Israelite law forbid it (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).  Many other ancient cultures, however, did not have similar laws protecting women in times of war. 
            The writer of this passage (most likely Deborah) was envisioning Sisera's mother waiting for him to come home, and of one of her ladies assuming that he was bringing back gifts and women that he had overpowered.  The irony is that it was a woman who killed Sisera (Judges 5:24-27). 
            This passage does not promote rape.  It is describing a nation that treated others with oppression and cruelty, and was eventually defeated and overthrown.

[1] The Iliad, Homer, written circa 8th-7th century BCE, Book 1 v. 33-36, Book 6 v. 521-556, Book 9 v. 153-168

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Marrying A Captive Woman (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)

The following quote is taken from

"Rape of Female Captives - "When you go out to war against your enemies and the LORD, your God, delivers them into your hand, so that you take captives, if you see a comely woman among the captives and become so enamored of her that you wish to have her as wife, you may take her home to your house.  But before she may live there, she must shave her head and pare her nails and lay aside her captive's garb.  After she has mourned her father and mother for a full month, you may have relations with her, and you shall be her husband and she shall be your wife.  However, if later on you lose your liking for her, you shall give her her freedom, if she wishes it; but you shall not sell her or enslave her, since she was married to you under compulsion." (Deuteronomy 21:10-14, NAB)

Once again God approves of forcible rape."

Let's examine this passage in further detail.  You can read the entire chapter here:

            As mentioned in my previous article ("War Against Distant Cities"), slavery as a result of being taken prisoner in war was common in the Ancient Near East [1][2].  Another common practice was women marrying those whom had conquered their city or tribe.  In this instance, the Law set down the procedure for an Israelite man who decided to marry a woman from among those who had been captured as prisoners of war.
            Again, as in previous passages, this passage must be considered in a cultural and historical context.  We must consider the situation of the woman who was taken captive.  Her parents, or at least her father, were most likely dead as a result of being killed during the war.  It is likely that any brothers or other male family members that she had were also dead.  This left her in a desperate situation [3][4].  The only choice that she would have to survive would be slavery or prostitution.  However, there was another way that would slightly elevate her social status and give her a better future - marriage.
            There were clear regulations set down in this instance.  For example, the man could not have sex with the woman that he chose to take home as his wife immediately.  It is clear that this passage is not approving rape.  The situation was very specific - she was not a sex slave or a victim of rape; the man was to take her to his house with the intention of marrying her.  Before they could be married, she had to shave her head (an Eastern custom symbolizing the transfer from one nationality/religion to another, also used as a sign of purification and new status; see Leviticus 14:8 and Numbers 8:7), trim her fingernails, and put away the clothes she was wearing when she was captured, signifying the end of her old life and the beginning of her new life.  She was then to mourn for her parents for a month (verses 12-13), and then the man could marry her and they could have sex.  This gave the woman time to grieve her losses and adapt to her new situation.
            We must remember when reading this passage that people, especially women, who lived in the Ancient Near East had little to no choice who their spouse would be.  Parents arranged marriages for their children [5].  With this in mind, the woman taken captive would be in a similar situation, marrying a man that she had not chosen.  It may seem strange in our modern Western culture, but this was the situation in ancient times.
            Finally, there was a law in this passage that protected the woman.  If the man who had married her decided he no longer wanted her, he could not then enslave her or sell her as a slave to someone else.  He had to let her go free (verse 14).
            Far from being an approval of forcible rape, this passage set clear boundaries for men who wanted to take home captive women, detailing the proper procedures and providing protection for the woman involved.   

[1] Code of Hammurabi (written circa 1772 BCE), translated into English by L.W. King (1915) #27-29, 32, 133-135
[2] A History of the Ancient World (Fourth Edition), Chester G. Starr, 1991.  Pg. 43.
[3] Exploring the World of the Bible Lands, Roberta L. Harris, 1995.  Pg. 35.
[4] The Gospel of Ruth, Carolyn Custis James, 2008.  Pgs. 77-78.
[5] Life In The Ancient Near East, Daniel C. Snell, 1997.  Pgs. 52-54.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12, 16)

The following quote is taken from

"David's Punishment - Polygamy, Rape, Baby Killing, and God's "Forgiveness" - Thus says the Lord: 'I will bring evil upon you out of your own house.  I will take your wives [plural] while you live to see it, and will give them to your neighbor.  He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.  You have done this deed in secret, but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel, and with the sun looking down.'
Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord."  Nathan answered David: "The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.  But since you have utterly spurned the Lord by this deed, the child born to you must surely die."  [The child dies seven days later.] (2 Samuel 12:11-14, NAB)

This has got to be one of the sickest quotes of the Bible.  God himself brings the completely innocent rape victims to the rapist.  What kind of pathetic loser would do something so evil?  And then he kills a child!  This is sick, really sick!"

To understand these verses, it helps to look at the events that directly preceded this statement.  You can read the entire story here:,%2016&version=NIV
            To summarize the story, King David was supposed to lead the Israelite army to war, but instead stayed at home in his palace in Jerusalem.  While there, he noticed Bathsheba, who was the wife of another man (Uriah the Hittite, one of David's officials), bathing on her roof.  He sent for her and slept with her, and she became pregnant as a result.  David then tried to cover up his sin by sending for Uriah and trying to get him to sleep with Bathsheba, but Uriah refused, saying that it wasn't right for him to go home to his wife when his fellow soldiers could not.  In response to this, David arranged for Uriah to be killed by sending orders for him to be sent where the fighting was most fierce.  Because of this, David not only killed Uriah, but other soldiers lost their lives with Uriah as well (2 Samuel 11:1-17). 
            What David did was a very serious sin, and God was displeased (2 Samuel 11:27).  David not only committed adultery with another man's wife; he then murdered the man.  Both sins went directly against God's commandments (Exodus 20:13-14).  The prophet Nathan confronted David with his sin, and he confessed and repented.  Unfortunately, even though God forgave David, justice demanded punishment and retribution (Numbers 35:33-34). By law, David's punishment should have been execution (Leviticus 20:10).  Had David been left unpunished, the entire kingdom of Israel may have been badly influenced to sin just as he did.
            There are a few issues here mentioned by the author of that need to be examined.  First, why did David have so many wives?  At the time of his sin with Bathsheba, David had at least 6 wives, and several concubines in addition to them (2 Samuel 3:2-5, 5:13).  Even though polygamy was allowed for a time, that doesn't mean that God approved of it.  God's original intention was for one man to marry one woman, not multiple wives (Genesis 2:20-24).  Furthermore, the Law stated that a king should only have one wife (Deuteronomy 17:17).  David disobeyed this commandment.
            God was predicting what would happen to David as a result of his sin with Bathsheba.  His children became rebellious and lost all respect for him.  Years later, David's son Absalom rebelled against him and attempted to take the throne for himself (2 Samuel chapters 15-18).  As part of his rebellion, he openly slept with the concubines that David foolishly left behind when he fled the city (2 Samuel 16:20-22).  In the Ancient Near East, to sleep with a king's concubine was to lay claim to the king's throne.  The text makes no mention of rape in this instance.  The Hebrew word used is shakab, meaning "to lie down with", used to refer to sexual intercourse (2 Samuel 12:11), and then bow, meaning "to go in" (2 Samuel 16:22).  These two terms are not the Hebrew words used for rape, as in other passages (Genesis 34:2; Judges 19:25, 20:25; 2 Samuel 13:14; Zechariah 14:2). [1]  The implication here is that David's concubines willingly slept with Absalom.
            We now come to the question of why God took the life of David and Bathsheba's infant son.  With a question such as this one, there are no easy answers.  “'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord.  'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'" (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV).  The murder of Uriah and his fellow soldiers required a life to be taken as punishment.  God spared David and Bathsheba, but their son died.  Perhaps it was so David and Bathsheba would fully realize the grave sin that they had committed, and that they would be moved to never sin in such a way again.  It was also to set an example that the Israelites would see, so that they also would be convinced to not sin in such a way themselves.  Whatever the reason, David seemed confident that his son was in heaven with God, and that he would see him again (2 Samuel 12:15-23).  God also showed his forgiveness and grace to David and Bathsheba by giving them four more sons (1 Chronicles 3:5), one of whom was Solomon, who would become the next king of Israel.

[1] Gesenius's Lexicon, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (translated by Samuel P. Tregelles), 1847

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Marriage Violations (Deuteronomy 22:13-30)

The following quote is taken from
            "Rape is one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.  Yet few people know that the Bible often condones and even approves of rape.  How anyone can get their moral guidance from a book that allows rape escapes me.  Perhaps they have been lied to about the Bible and carefully detoured around all the nasty stuff in the Bible.
            So grab your Bibles and follow along as I show you all the nasty rapes that your priests and preachers don't want to tell you about.  Note that in many places in the Bible there are references to "taking a wife".  Don't be fooled into thinking that these were voluntary marriages.  This first quote clearly shows that murder and force were used to "take" these wives." 
            Before we begin this section, there are two claims which need to be examined.  The first is the claim, "the Bible often condones and even approves of rape".  This is not the case.  The Law forbid rape, and God does not approve of it.  Rape is a sin.  In the time that the Law was written, rape was a crime that was punishable by death (Deuteronomy 22:25-27).
            The second claim is that marriages in the Bible usually involved rape, since they were not voluntary.  By that definition, all marriage in the Bible would be classified as rape, since marriages were almost never voluntary in the Ancient Near East.  In that culture and time period (as in some Eastern cultures today), marriages were always arranged by the parents of the bride and groom [1].  Men and women often did not even meet their spouse until the wedding day.  Marriage then was very different from today, where men and women choose their spouses and marry for love.  In the time period and culture where the Bible was written, people had little to no choice who their spouse would be.  Marriage was mostly for family alliances, protection and continuation of family property/assets, and procreation.

The following quotes are taken from

"Death to the Rape Victim - "If within the city a man comes upon a maiden who is betrothed, and has relations with her, you shall bring them both out of the gate of the city and there stone them to death: the girl because she did not cry out for help though she was in the city, and the man because he violated his neighbors wife" (Deuteronomy 22:23-24, NAB)

It is clear that God doesn't give a d--- about the rape victim.  He is only concerned about the violation of another man's "property".

"Laws of Rape - "If a man is caught in the act of raping a young woman who is not engaged, he must pay fifty pieces of silver to her father.  Then he must marry the young woman because he violated her, and he will never be allowed to divorce her" (Deuteronomy 22:28-29, NLT).

What kind of lunatic would make a rape victim marry her attacker?  Answer: God."

Let's examine the laws found in Deuteronomy chapter 22.  You can read the full text here:

            The laws found in Deuteronomy 22:13-30 describe situations in which the marriage covenant has been violated, such as slander, cases of adultery, and instances of rape.  In the verses just preceding the above passage, the death penalty is given for a man who raped a woman in the country: "But if out in the country a man happens to meet a young woman pledged to be married and rapes her, only the man who has done this shall die.  Do nothing to the woman; she has committed no sin deserving death.  This case is like that of someone who attacks and murders a neighbor, for the man found the young woman out in the country, and though the betrothed woman screamed, there was no one to rescue her" (Deuteronomy 22:25-27, NIV).  Rape was a crime that was punishable by death.
            We find in this chapter three cases for three specific situations.  This passage, like the ones preceding it, must be considered in a cultural and historical context.  In the Ancient Near East, a woman was entirely subject to the men of her family [1].  She was first a virgin in her father's household, and then she was married and became a wife and mother in her husband's household.  In ancient Israelite culture, it was almost unheard of for a person to remain single their entire life.  People, especially women, were expected to marry and have children.  This was a cultural mandate [2][3].
            The first situation described here concerns a man who slept with a woman who was engaged to someone else, in a town (Deuteronomy 22:23-24).  The implication here is that the woman consented to sex and did not scream for help, since her cries would have been obvious in such close proximity to others living nearby.  People who were engaged were already considered to be married; a broken engagement was as serious as a divorce (Matthew 1:18-19).  In light of this, and of God's command against adultery (Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 5:18), this was a crime that both the man and woman committed, that warranted the death penalty.  If the woman was being raped and had screamed for help, only the man would be executed (verses 25-27), which was the second situation described.
            The third situation was unique, since it did not involve a woman who was already engaged, but a virgin woman who was not yet engaged to anyone.  The question that has been presented is this: Why would there be a law prescribing a marriage to occur in this instance?  The answer is cultural.  In the Ancient Near East, virginity was highly prized.  Widows and unmarried women who were not virgins and had no father, brother or son who was willing to provide for them were in a desperate situation [1][2].  Women in this situation often had to sell themselves into slavery or prostitution just to survive.  It was not like modern times, where women can provide for themselves and live on their own.
            One example of this situation can be found in the story of Amnon and Tamar (2 Samuel chapter 13).  In this story, Amnon, King David's oldest son and heir to his throne, fell in love with his half-sister, Tamar.  After tricking her into coming into his bedroom, he raped her.  Afterwards, he commanded her to leave, but her response might be considered puzzling to a modern reader: she wanted to stay, and to marry him.  “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me" (2 Samuel 13:16, NIV).  Why would Tamar want to stay with Amnon after he raped her?  She knew of her situation: she was no longer a virgin, and in that culture would therefore be unmarriageable, except to the one who had taken her virginity.  She preferred marriage over the alternative of living single as "a desolate woman", which is what happened when Amnon sent her away (2 Samuel 13:17-20).  Amnon was eventually murdered by his half-brother Absalom, who was disgusted over the great evil that had been done to Tamar (2 Samuel 13:21-38).
            We must consider a few other things here.  Different Hebrew words are used in this passage to refer to the different sexual acts, which do not necessarily imply rape.  For example, the word used in verse 23 is shakab, meaning "to lie down with", used to refer to sexual intercourse.  This is not quite the same term as in verse 25, where in addition to shakab the word chazaq is added, meaning "to seize, overpower, take hold of, prevail".  In verse 28, the word taphas is used, but has a slightly different meaning than chazaq, though the two terms are similar.  So in verses 25 and 28 the description is that the man seized and had sex with a woman, but this does not explicitly refer to rape.  The differences in the words used in verses 25 and 28 could be interpreted as verse 25 referring to rape, while verse 28 refers to consensual sex.  These two terms are also not the same Hebrew words used for rape as in other passages (Genesis 34:2; Judges 19:25, 20:25; 2 Samuel 13:14; Zechariah 14:2). [4] [5].
            Lastly, in addition to marrying the woman, the man who had sex with her also had to pay a substantial fine of fifty shekels of silver.  This was no small sum; at that time it represented at least 6-8 months' wages for the average person [6].  The man was now responsible for the protection and care of the wife he had taken.  Though the Law permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4), in this instance, the man who committed this crime was not ever permitted to divorce the woman.  This law protected her and provided her with a home, provisions and a future.  For a woman in the Ancient Near East, this situation was better than the alternative of being forced into slavery or prostitution to provide for herself. 
             There is one more thing to consider when reading this passage, and that is a parallel law from the book of Exodus: "If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins" (Exodus 22:16-17, NIV).  A marriage was not necessarily required to occur if an unbetrothed woman had been raped (or engaged in consensual pre-marital sex).  Since unmarried women in the Ancient Near East were under the authority of their fathers, it was up to the father to decide whether to give her in marriage to the man or not.  The father had the right to refuse, and if he did, the man involved had to pay the substantial bride price anyway.
            This passage is not saying that rape is acceptable.  In these passages, rape is treated as a serious crime.  So how should this passage be interpreted and applied today?  Does this mean that today, a rape victim is supposed to marry her rapist?  The answer is no.  In the first place, Deuteronomy 22:28-29 more likely seems to be describing an instance of consensual pre-marital sex, rather than rape (see the parallel law in Exodus 22:16-17).  Secondly, people tend to take the commandments in the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) as laws that were supposed to apply to every person in every culture, throughout history. This is not the case. The commandments in the Law (Torah) were specifically given to the nation of the Israelites. They were not intended to be for people of all nations and all time periods. God gave the Law to the Israelites to reveal his character, make all of us aware of our sin and to reveal our need for a Savior (Romans 3:19-31, 5:20-21, 7, 10:4; Galatians 3). We must keep that in mind when reading passages such as this in the Old Testament. This does not mean that there is nothing to be learned from the Old Testament; but what it means is that there is a specific audience that this passage was written for, and we will not understand it unless we consider it in context.

UPDATE 11/23/14: It appears that those who created the NLT Bible translation have updated their translation in order to correctly interpret the language of the Hebrew in Deuteronomy 22:28 - in their 2013 translation, the act is considered pre-marital consensual intercourse, rather than rape: "Suppose a man has intercourse with a young woman who is a virgin but is not engaged to be married.  If they are discovered..." (Deuteronomy 22:28, NLT 2013).

[1] Exploring the World of the Bible Lands, Roberta L. Harris, 1995.  Pg. 35.
[2] The Gospel of Ruth, Carolyn Custis James, 2008.  Pgs. 77-78.
[3] Life and Society in the West: Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Constance Brittain Bouchard, 1988.  Pg. 33.
[4] Gesenius's Lexicon, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (translated by Samuel P. Tregelles), 1847